Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy, Mass

The Thomas Crane Public Library on Washington Street in Quincy, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The library in 2019:

The Thomas Crane Public Library was established in 1880 by Albert Crane as a memorial to his late father, Thomas Crane. Born in 1803, Thomas grew up in Quincy and began working here as a stonecutter in the granite quarries. He later moved to New York, where he had a successful business career selling Quincy granite in the rapidly-growing city. However, he did not forget Quincy, often spending his summers here, and after his death in 1875 his son decided that a public library would be an appropriate way of honoring his memory.

The building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, one of the nation’s preeminent architects of the 19th century. Richardson pioneered a style known as Richardsonian Romanesque, which typically featured rounded arches, tall narrow windows, and rough exterior walls with contrasting light and dark stone. The vast majority of Richardson’s works were public buildings, including a number of churches and railroad stations, and he also designed several libraries. Despite its relatively small size, this library is generally regarded as one of his finest works, with architectural historian and Richardson biographer Henry-Russell Hitchcock declaring it to be “without question the best library Richardson ever built.”

The library was completed in 1882, with the formal dedication on May 30. Albert Crane and other members of his family attended the event, and he ceremonially handed over the keys of the building to Charles Francis Adams Jr., the grandson and great grandson of Quincy’s two famous presidents. Adams then gave the keynote address, in which he recounted the life of Thomas Crane, with a particular emphasis on his humble origins and his strong personal character and morals.

The building’s architecture was well received, and the Boston Journal published a glowing review of its design as part of its coverage of the dedication ceremony:

It is built in what may be termed free Romanesque style of architecture, and is in the form of a parallelogram, 84 by 41 feet in dimensions. The outer material is of Easton pink-tinted granite trimmed with Longmeadow brown stone. The interior above the basement is occupied by one lofty story and a low studded attic. The southern portion is devoted to a reading room. There are in the large hall 16 alcoves with a capacity of 40,000 volumes, and a small room is specially devoted to books and manuscripts pertaining to local history. The effect of the interior is pleasing. There are seven large windows beautifully decorated in stained glass by La Farge. In the east window of the reading room are the suggestive words; “And his leaves shall not wither.” The principal light is a remarkable piece of work, the design of which is by La Farge, and represents in vivid hues an old philosopher holding a roll in his hand. The finish of the interior is of Southern pine, beautifully decorated. The cost of the structure was $40,000, and the expense of grading and embellishing the grounds will probably reach $10,000 or $15,000 additional.

Despite the large capacity of the original library building, though, it was soon in need of expansion. The first addition came in 1908, with a wing in the rear of the library. Richardson had died more than 20 years earlier, but one of his former employees, William Martin Aiken, designed the addition, which matched the appearance of the original building. A second, more substantial expansion came in 1939, with the construction of a new building immediately to the southeast, connected to the older building by an L-enclosed walkway that is partially visible on the far right side of the present-day scene. As with Aiken’s wing, the architecture of this addition copied Richardson’s style. Then, the last expansion occurred in 2001, with a substantial addition to the east of the 1939 wing that doubled the size of the library.

Today, despite these many additions, the original 1882 Richardson portion of the library has remained essentially unchanged from this view. Its surroundings have changed, and the tower of the 1927 Bethany Congregational Church now looms above the building in the distance, but the old library has survived as an important work by one of the greatest architects in American history. Because of its architectural significance, the library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and 15 years later it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of federal recognition for a historic property.

Memorial Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Memorial Hall on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Harvard’s Memorial Hall was built between 1870 and 1878, in honor of the Harvard students and graduates who had fought for the Union cause during the Civil War. Its construction was primarily funded by an alumni committee that raised $370,000 in contributions, in addition to a separate bequest of $40,000 from 1802 graduate Charles Sanders for the construction of a theater. As a result, the building featured three distinct parts: a large dining hall on one side, the Sanders Theatre on the other side, and the Memorial Transept between them.

The building was designed by Harvard graduates William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, and it is generally regarded as an architectural masterpiece and one of the country’s finest examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture. This style reached its peak of popularity in the late 1860s and early 1870s, when it was nearly ubiquitous for schools, churches, government buildings, and other public buildings. Memorial Hall incorporates many of the typical features of this style, including tall windows with pointed arches, steep roofs with multi-colored tiles, a tall tower, and a red brick exterior with contrasting light-colored stone trim.

Construction began in 1870, and it was marked by the laying of the cornerstone on October 6. Many dignitaries attended the event, including Governor William Claflin, Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, and General George Meade, who had led the Union victory at Gettysburg seven years earlier. U. S. Attorney General Ebenezer Hoar, a Massachusetts native and Harvard alumnus, gave the dedication address, and the ceremony also included the singing of a hymn written for the occasion by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

The various parts of the building were completed in different stages, and both the dining hall and the Memorial Transept were finished in 1874. The dining hall occupies the majority of the building, including everything to the left of the tower from this scene. It measured 164 feet in length, 60 feet in width, and 80 feet from the floor to the top of the roof. The hall had room for over a thousand people to sit at the tables, although the actual number of Harvard students who ate here in the late 19th century was generally much lower, with around 450 to 650 students in any given year.

The Memorial Transept is located just to the right of the dining hall, inside the main entrance on the right side of this scene. It spans the entire width of Memorial Hall, separating the dining hall from the theater, and it has a similar entrance on the other side of the building. Inside, the transept measures 112 feet in length in 30 feet in width, and it features marble tablets on the walls, which contain the names of 136 Harvard students and alumni who died in the war. Only Union soldiers are recognized here; many Harvard graduates also died fighting for the Confederacy, but their names are not included in the transept.

On the other side of the transept, and barely visible from this angle, is the Sanders Theatre, which was completed in 1875. Originally it could seat 1,500 people, and it was used as a venue for commencement exercises, along with a number of other events, including concerts and lectures. The theater continued to be used for commencements until 1922, and during this time perhaps the most famous graduate here was Theodore Roosevelt, of the class of 1880. Many years later, he would return here as a guest speaker in the same theater, and over the years other notable speakers have included Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr.

From the exterior, the most distinctive feature of Memorial Hall is its 200-foot tower. However, this has been altered and rebuilt several times, beginning in 1877 when the original architects made some changes to its original appearance. Then, in 1897 a clock was added to the top of the tower, with one face on each of the four sides. The first photo was taken soon after this, and the building retained this appearance until 1956, when the upper portion of the tower was destroyed in a fire.

In the meantime, the use of Memorial Hall also changed in the 20th century. The dining hall closed in 1926, and for the next 70 years this space was used for a wide variety of events, ranging from banquets to blood drives. Then, in the 1990s this space underwent an extensive renovation, and it was restored to its original use as a dining hall. It was renamed Annenberg Hall in 1996, and since then it has been used as the primary dining hall for Harvard freshmen.

Along with the interior work, the exterior of the building was also restored in the 1990s, most notably with the reconstruction of the top of the tower. The top had been missing ever since the 1956 fire, but it was rebuilt in 1999, using the designs from the 1877 work on the tower. As a result, the exterior of Memorial Hall probably more closely resembles its 19th century appearance today than it did when the first photo was taken in the early 1900s.

Other than the changes to the tower, the only significant difference between these two photos is Cambridge Street in the foreground. In the first photo it was an unpaved street with several trolley tracks running down the middle, but in the 1960s it was lowered to build a long underpass, with a pedestrian mall atop it. This allowed direct access from Harvard Yard to the sections of the campus north of Cambridge Street, although it also had the consequence of significantly changing the streetscape here in front of Memorial Hall.

Longfellow House Staircase, Cambridge, Mass

The main staircase in the Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, this house was built in 1759 for John Vassall, a wealthy sugar plantation owner who fled Cambridge just prior to the start of the American Revolution because of his loyalist sympathies. The patriot government then confiscated his property, and from July 1775 to April 1776 it was the residence and headquarters of George Washington, who had been given command of the Continental Army just before coming to Cambridge. Much of his strategic planning during the Siege of Boston was done here in the house, including his move to fortify Dorchester Heights in March 1776, which ultimately led to the British evacuation of Boston.

Aside from Washington, the other famous resident of this house was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He moved in here in 1837 as a boarder, when he was a 30-year-old Harvard professor and still a relatively obscure writer. His future father-in-law, Nathan Appleton, later purchased it as a wedding gift for Longfellow and his wife Fanny in 1843, and he went on to live here for the rest of his life. In total, he spent 45 years in this house, and most of his major works were written here, including Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and “The Village Blacksmith.”

This staircase is located just inside the front door, so it would have been the first thing that guests of both Washington and Longfellow would have seen upon arriving in the house. Both of these famous residents had a number of notable visitors here, and for Washington these included his subordinate generals such as Horatio Gates, Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene. Many of Longfellow’s prominent visitors were fellow literary figures, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and William Makepeace Thackeray.

Although not visible in this scene, the entry hall also features two doors at the base of the stairs, with one on the left and one on the right. The door to the left leads into the room at the southwest corner of the house, which was used by Washington as his reception room for his visitors, and by the Longfellows as their parlor. To the right, at the southeast corner, is where Washington had his dining room, and where he would have held his councils of war with his other generals. This room was later used by Longfellow as his study, and he wrote many of his famous works there.

Longfellow appreciated the history of his house and its association with Washington. When the general first arrived here in July 1775, the patriot leaders had great confidence in his abilities, but at that point his leadership had not yet been tested in battle. However, by the time Longfellow moved in more than 60 years later, Washington was revered as the father of his country, and he was the subject of countless works of art. In 1844, to recognize Washington’s time here in this house, Longfellow purchased a bust of Washington, which he placed here in the entry hall. It was a copy of one made by Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1785, and, as these two photos show, it is still here next to the stairs, nearly 180 years later.

Longfellow’s daughter Alice had a similar respect for history and historic preservation, so after his death in 1882 she was careful to maintain both the interior and exterior appearances of the house. As a result, the first photo, which was taken around the 1910s, when Alice was still living here, probably reflects how it would have looked during Longfellow’s lifetime. Aside from the bust of Washington, the photo also includes several other antiques and works of art. On the left side are three paintings, and above them is a print of Washington on horseback that Longfellow acquired in 1864. In the upper center of the scene, on the landing, is a grandfather clock that he added there in 1877, five years before his death. As shown in the 2019 photo, all of these objects are still in the same location today.

For much of the 20th century, this house was run by the Longfellow House Trust. However, in 1972 the organization gave the house and its contents to the National Park Service, and it became the Longfellow House National Historic Site. It has since been renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, but, as these photos show, not much else has changed here, and the house is open to the public for ranger-guided tours.

Longfellow House, Cambridge, Mass (2)

The Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1890-1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:


As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this house was built in 1759 as the home of John Vassall, a 21-year-old sugar plantation heir. He lived here until 1774 when, as a loyalist, he and his family moved to the safety of British-occupied Boston shortly before the start of the American Revolution.

The Vassalls ultimately never returned here, and starting in the summer of 1775 their house was occupied by George Washington, who used it as his residence and headquarters during the siege of Boston. Washington remained here for nearly nine months, until after the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, and he departed on April in order to move the Continental Army to New York.

This house went through several different owners in the late 18th century before being purchased by Andrew Craigie around 1792. Craigie had been the first apothecary general of the Continental Army during the war, and he lived here until his death in 1819. His widow Elizabeth continued to live here until she died in 1841, and during this time she took on boarders, including a young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who moved into the house in 1837.

The famous poet ultimately became the owner of the house when, in 1843, he married Fanny Appleton and her father Nathan purchased it and gave it to them as a wedding gift. Longfellow went on to write nearly all of his major works here in this house, and he also frequently entertained distinguished visitors here, among them Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde. His wife Fanny died here in 1861 from burns that she suffered after her dress caught fire, but Longfellow continued to live here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1882 at the age of 75.

By the time the first photo was taken around the 1890s, his daughter Alice was still living here. She was a philanthropist and also an advocate of historic preservation, and during her ownership she maintained the house in its historic condition, on both the interior and exterior. The 1900 census, which was probably recorded soon after the photo was taken, shows here living here alone, with the exception of three servants.

Alice lived here until her death in 1928, and for much of the 20th century the house was preserved by the Longfellow House Trust. This organization ultimately donated the property to the National Park Service, and it became the Longfellow National Historic Site. It has since been renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, and it is still open to visitors for guided tours. As these two photos show, the house has seen hardly any exterior change from this angle since the first photo was taken more than 120 years ago.

Longfellow House, Cambridge, Mass

The Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:

This elegant Georgian-style mansion was built in 1759 as the home of John Vassall, a wealthy young man whose family owned a number of sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Vassall was born in 1738, but his mother died just a year later, and his father died when he was only nine. As the only son, he inherited his father’s wealth, and he was subsequently raised by his grandfather Spencer Phips, the longtime lieutenant governor of colonial Massachusetts.

His inheritance had included 56 acres of land here in Cambridge, and he wasted little time in improving the property after coming of age. In 1759, at the age of 21, he had his father’s old house demolished, and he replaced it with this home here on Brattle Street, located about a half mile west of the center of Cambridge. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Oliver, whose brother Thomas later served as the colonial lieutenant governor. The couple went on to live here until 1774, and during this time they had seven children, one of whom died in infancy.

The Vassalls lived here at a time when slavery was still legal in Massachusetts. Although slavery was not widespread in the colony, it was not uncommon for wealthy families to have several enslaved domestic servants. In the case of the Vassalls, though, they had at least seven slaves living here at this house, which was an unusually large number for colonial Massachusetts. This reflected the significant wealth of the Vassall family, which itself was largely derived from enslaved labor on the family’s sugar plantations.

As both the grandson and brother-in-law of high-ranking royal officials, as well as being a wealthy landowner with holdings in other colonies, John Vassall remained loyal to the British crown in the years leading up to the American Revolution. However, as tensions escalated by the mid-1770s, the Vassalls decided to relocate to the relative safety of Boston, leaving their country estate here in Cambridge in the care of their slaves. They intended to return once the situation improved, but they ultimately evacuated Boston with the rest of the British fleet in March 1776. They made their way first to Halifax and then to England, where they continued to prosper despite having all of their Massachusetts property confiscated.

In the meantime, while the Vassalls were still residing in Boston, Cambridge became the main encampment of the Continental Army, thanks to its location directly across the Charles River from Boston. From here, the army laid siege to Boston, confining the British to what was, at the time, a geographically small seaport town on a narrow peninsula in the middle of the harbor. At the start of the siege in the spring of 1775, the colonial forces consisted primarily of local militia companies, but on June 14 the Continental Congress in Philadelphia established the Continental Army, and a day later Virginia delegate George Washington was appointed as its commander-in-chief.

Washington arrived in Cambridge on July 2, and he initially set up his headquarters at the Wadsworth House, which was the residence of the Harvard president. He stayed there for two weeks, but on July 16 he moved here to the vacated Vassall house. This move was likely motivated in part by the fact that, at the previous house, he had to share space with General Charles Lee, and also with the Harvard president. The Vassall house was also a quieter place, further from the town center and away from the main army encampments, and Washington may have also preferred it because, in part, it resembled his own home in Virginia. Like Mount Vernon, the house was situated on a large estate, surrounded by farmland tended by slaves, and it likewise offered a view of a major river, in this case the Charles River.

Whatever his reasons for choosing this house, the George Washington who arrived here in July 1775 was in many ways very different from the man who would ultimately come to be known as the father of his country. Although widely respected and celebrated with enthusiasm here in Cambridge, Washington was still a relatively young man at 43. Up to this point, his military career was limited to serving as a colonel in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War. His wartime service had been distinguished but not overly remarkable, yet by the summer of 1775 he was viewed by many patriots as the best choice to lead the newly-organized army.

This house served as Washington’s residence and headquarters throughout the rest of the siege of Boston, until after the British evacuated the town in March 1776. During this time, the house was a busy place, with Washington regularly receiving high-ranking officers and other important visitors. For a time, General Horatio Gates also lived here, and Martha Washington arrived here to live with her husband in December 1775. In addition, Washington’s councils of war were held here, probably in the dining room, which was apparently located in the front room on the right side of the house. These meetings were attended by his top generals, including such notable figures as Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene.

It was also here at this house that, in the fall of 1775, Washington received a poem written by Phillis Wheatley. A few years earlier, while still enslaved, she had become the first published African American poet in the American colonies. By 1775 she had gained her freedom, and she continued to write poems, many of which gave praise to notable public figures. In her poem to Washington, she described the conflict between Britain and the colonies, and wrote in glowing terms about Washington being “first and place and honours,” and “Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,” before concluding with four lines that foreshadowed his future as the leader of the new country:

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, Washington! be thine.

Washington did not immediately respond to Wheatley, but in early 1776 he finally wrote back to her, praising her abilities by writing, “I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyrick, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents.” Then, in a rather remarkable offer for a southern slaveowner to extend to a recently-emancipated slave, Washington invited Wheatley to visit his headquarters, writing “If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near Head Quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses, and to whom Nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations.” Whether or not Wheatley actually visited him here is unknown; it is possible that she may have, but if so there are no surviving contemporary accounts of it.

During his time in Cambridge, Washington did not fight any major battles, although the idea of assaulting British-occupied Boston was a frequent topic of discussion here at his councils of war. In the end, though, the decisive move that ended the siege of Boston came on March 4, 1776, when the Continental Army, in the course of a single night, secretly fortified Dorchester Heights to the south of Boston.

The cannons on the hill made the British position in Boston untenable, forcing their commander, General William Howe, to choose between abandoning the town or risking a Bunker Hill-style assault on Dorchester Heights. He considered the latter option, and Washington was actually counting on this, as he hoped to attack Boston from Cambridge while the majority of Howe’s army was at Dorchester. However, Howe ultimately decided to evacuate Boston, and Washington allowed his fleet to sail away unharmed under the condition that the British not burn the town.

The British sailed away on March 17, on a day that is still celebrated in Boston as Evacuation Day. Washington remained here at his headquarters for the next few weeks, before leaving on April 4. He and his army would subsequently head south to New York City, to defend it from an anticipated attack by Howe’s army. The remainder of 1776 would prove to be a difficult time for Washington, who suffered a series of defeats in the late summer and fall. These were “the times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine put it, and after his success here in Boston, Washington would not experience another major victory until Trenton in late December. Still, despite these difficulties, Washington maintained the respect of the majority of his soldiers, and his leadership would prove instrumental in the ultimate success of the American Revolution.

In the meantime, after Washington’s departure the house had several different owners in the late 18th century. Merchant Nathaniel Tracy owned it from 1781 to 1786, and then another merchant, Thomas Russell, owned it until 1791, It was then purchased by Andrew Craigie, a noted apothecary who had served as the first Apothecary General of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He married his wife Elizabeth in 1793, and he lived here until his death in 1819. During this time, he improved the house and the surrounding grounds, and he frequently held lavish parties here, with attendees such as Prince Edward, who was the father of Queen Victoria.

After Craigie’s death, his widow Elizabeth continued to live here for the rest of her life. In order to reduce her expenses, she took in boarders during much of this time. These included historian Jared Sparks, politician Edward Everett, and most notably, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was a 30-year-old Harvard professor when he moved into a room here in 1837, and he had recently been widowed after the death of his young wife Mary less than two years earlier.

At the time, Longfellow had barely begun his literary career. His first book, Outre-Mer, had been published in 1835, but it was here in this house that Longfellow would establish himself as one of the leading writers of 19th century America. His next major works, the novel Hyperion and poetry collection Voices of the Night, were written here, and were published in 1839. Around this time, he was courting Fanny Appleton, the daughter of prominent merchant Nathan Appleton. He and Fanny ultimately married in 1843, two years after the death of Elizabeth Craigie, and Appleton purchased the house from her heirs as a wedding gift for Longfellow.

Henry and Fanny Longfellow both lived here for the rest of their lives, and during this time they had six children, one of whom died young. He wrote most of his works here, including his famous epic poems Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha, along with notable shorter poems such as “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Village Blacksmith.” However, this house was also the site of a tragedy when, in 1861, Fanny died from severe burns after her dress caught on fire. Henry was also badly burned while trying to extinguish the flames, and this resulted in him growing his famous beard in order to hide the scars on his face.

Because Longfellow was such a famous literary figure during his lifetime, he frequently received notable guests here at his house. He had a close friendship with Senator Charles Sumner, who was a frequent visitor here. Other prominent local visitors included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, along with foreigners such as British novelists Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, Swedish singer Jenny Lind, British actress Fanny Kemble, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, and Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil. Dickens actually visited the house several times in November 1867 during his American tour, including for Thanksgiving dinner on November 28.

Longfellow died in 1882 at the age of 75, after having lived here for 45 years. The house would remain in his family for many more years, though, and his daughter Alice was still living here when the first photo was taken around the 1910s. She was 59 years old when the 1910 census was taken, and she was listed as living here alone except for three servants. Alice was involved in a number of philanthropic causes and historic preservation efforts, including working with other family members to establish the Longfellow House Trust, which preserved the family home and its contents.

The Longfellow House Trust continued to maintain the house long after Alice Longfellow’s death in 1928, and in 1962 the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Then, ten years later, the organization donated it to the National Park Service. The property became the Longfellow National Historic Site, and it has been open to visitors ever since, although in 2010 it was renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site. Today, very little has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and it survives not only as an excellent example of colonial-era Georgian architecture, but also as an important connection to both George Washington and to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

John Adams and John Quincy Adams Birthplaces, Quincy, Mass

The John Adams (right) and John Quincy Adams (left) birthplaces on Franklin Street in Quincy, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As of 2020, only seven states have been the birthplace of two or more presidents. Massachusetts is among them, with four presidents, and two of these were born here, in this half-acre triangle of land between Franklin Street and Presidents Avenue. John Adams was born in 1735, in the house on the right side of this scene, and his son John Quincy Adams was born 32 years later, in the house on the left in the foreground. Standing only 75 feet apart, these are the two closest presidential birthplaces in the country, and they are also the two oldest surviving ones; no other presidents before William Henry Harrison were born in buildings that still exist.

The house on the right, where John Adams was later born, was built in 1722 by the future president’s father, Deacon John Adams. At the the time, this area was part of the town of Braintree, as the present-day city of Quincy would not be incorporated as a separate municipality until 1792. Deacon Adams had purchased the property, which included seven acres of farmland, in 1720, and he subsequently built the house, apparently reusing timbers from an earlier house that had stood here. Adams married his wife Susanna Boylston in 1734, and a year later their first son John was born here. John spent his childhood here, along with his younger brothers Peter and Elihu, although he left home in 1751 at the age of 16, in order to attend Harvard.

In sending his son to Harvard, Deacon Adams had hoped that John would become a minister, but after graduation he moved to Worcester, where he worked as a schoolteacher before deciding to study law. John ultimately returned here to his family home in 1758, and a year later he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law. Two years later, Deacon Adams died at the age of 70, and his son Peter inherited the old family home, with John receiving the house next door on the left side of the scene, which Deacon Adams had acquired in 1744.

John Adams married Abigail Smith in 1764, and the couple moved into the house here on the left side. Although John’s father had only owned it for 20 years at that point, it was actually even older than the other house. It was definitely built by 1717, but it apparently incorporated parts of an earlier house that had been built here on this site in 1663. In either case, the house was expanded at some point after it was built, possibly during Deacon Adams’s ownership, and in its current form it is architecturally very similar to the house on the right. Both are good examples of the traditional New England saltbox style, with three window bays on the front facade, a central chimney, two front rooms on both the first and second floors, and two additional rooms on the first floor of the lean-to.

Upon moving into the house on the left, John Adams converted the southeast room on the ground floor—at the corner closest to the foreground in this scene—into his law office. From the exterior, the only change was the door here at the corner, which allowed clients to come and go without using the main entrance. On the other side of the house, in the northeast corner, was the parlor, and the kitchen was located behind it in the lean-to section. There were two bedrooms upstairs, and future president John Quincy Adams was born in the northern bedroom, on the right side in this scene.

Aside from John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), John and Abigail Adams had five other children: Abigail “Nabby” (1765-1813), Susanna (1768-1770), Charles (1770-1800), Thomas (1772-1832), and Elizabeth (stillborn in 1777). This was their home throughout this time, although John was frequently away from here during and after the American Revolution. From 1774 to 1777, he was a delegate at the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia, and then from 1777 to 1779 he was overseas as an envoy in France. This was followed by an even longer stay in Europe during the 1780s, when he served as Minister to the Netherlands and Minister to Great Britain.

During John Adams’s long periods away from home, he and Abigail exchanged hundreds of letters, a substantial number of which have survived. Although she lacked formal education, the letters reveal Abigail’s role as an influential advisor and confidant to her husband, and these letters have become a part of the American literary canon. Abigail wrote many of the letters from here at their house, including her famous 1776 exhortation to John to “Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors” when creating a new government.

As it turned out, a few years later John Adams would almost singlehandedly create the Massachusetts state government here in his law office in this house. In 1779, during his brief return to America between diplomatic assignments, he found himself on the three-man drafting committee at the state constitutional convention. Like any group project, the other two members of the committee, in turn, assigned him the actual task of writing the text of the new constitution, much of which was done here.

This document was ratified a year later in 1780, and it remains in effect today, making it the world’s oldest written constitution. Its structure also served as a model for the United States Constitution, which was written seven years later. However, perhaps Adams’s single most famous contribution to the constitution was the seemingly-innocuous statement that “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.” Although largely echoing Thomas Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence, the “born free and equal” phrase became the legal basis for the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts in 1781, when the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that slavery was incompatible with the words of the constitution.

John Adams returned to Europe in late 1779, shortly after he finished drafting the constitution. He and Abigail would be separated for the next five years, until she and Nabby joined him and John Quincy in Paris in 1784. They would remain overseas until 1788, and during this time they grew accustomed to the more lavish residences that they enjoyed in Europe, in contrast to their decidedly modest farmhouse back home. As a result, in 1787, while he was still in Europe, he purchased a mansion a little over a mile north of here, which was situated on 40 acres of land. Upon returning home a year later, he named it Peacefield, and set about expanding and renovating it.

John and Abigail would live at Peacefield for the rest of their lives, and the home would remain in the Adams family for several more generations. During this time, though, the family also retained these houses here on Franklin Street. These were generally used as rental properties throughout most of the 19th century, although John Quincy Adams did live here in his birthplace and childhood home from 1805 to 1807, during part of his single term as a United States senator.

By the late 19th century, both of these houses were occupied by local historical groups, with the Quincy Historical Society in the John Quincy Adams birthplace on the left, and the Adams Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the John Adams birthplace on the right. Around this same time the houses were also restored to their 18th century appearances, including uncovering the side door to John Adams’s law office, which had long been boarded over. The first photo was taken soon after, probably around 1904, with the colonial-era homes contrasting with the modern trolley tracks and overhead wires In the foreground.

The Adams family ultimately owned these properties for more than two centuries, until selling them to the city of Quincy in 1940. Both houses were designated as National Historic Landmarks in 1960, and in 1978 the city transferred them to the National Park Service. Today, remarkably little has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken, and both houses remain well-preserved. Along with the nearby Peacefield mansion, they now form the Adams National Historical Park, and they are open to the public for guided tours.